Trump administration

The Pruitt Watch (#WhatTheyVotedFor)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Skyhobo, 2009)

Miserable: Jonathan Swan offers a glimpse “Inside Scott Pruitt’s ‘miserable’ bunker”, and what is unbelievable about the article is that it might be written at all. Starting with the incendiary report from The Atlantic about intracabinet political attacks and the typical Axios brief on “why this matters”—approximately that for whatever reasons, Administrator Pruitt still has his job—but then lays an ugly string of points from “behind the scenes”, starting with the idea that EPA senior staff apparently being surprised by a photo of the Administrator at lunch with “members of his team” emerging in a lobbyist’s tweet.

Gravity is gravity; the slope is uncertain, but something about downhill goes here.

• Over the last few months, Pruitt has walled himself off from all but five EPA political appointees: ​Millan Hupp, Sarah Greenwalt, Hayley Ford, Lincoln Ferguson, and Wilcox. Of those five, only Wilcox is over 30. Hupp, Greenwalt and Ferguson came with Pruitt from Oklahoma. Wilcox is the only press aide Pruitt appears to trust.

• Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, runs the agency’s operations but rarely knows where his boss is. Pruitt has frozen Jackson out of his inner circle—a disaster for a chief of staff. Pruitt and Jackson don’t trust each other, multiple sources told me.

• “All of us have been frozen out over time,” one EPA political appointee told me. “It’s absolutely unreal working here. Everyone’s miserable. Nobody talks. It’s a dry wall prison.”

And the band plays on as EPA tumbles down the rabbit hole: “Pruitt never trusted the EPA’s career staff”, writes Swan, and the understatement about the sentence is nearly unavoidable; the point is highlight the Administrator having “frozen out” political appointees as administrative paranoia apparently grows and staff morale similarly continues its plummet.

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Neither Insignificant Nor Unexpected

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AP Photo)

The lede from Associated Press is not insignificant, but it is also expected:

Investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have interviewed one of President Donald Trump’s closest friends and confidants, California real estate investor Tom Barrack, The Associated Press has learned.

Barrack was interviewed as part of the federal investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations . . . .

. . . .One of the people who spoke to AP said the questioning focused entirely on two officials from Trump’s campaign who have been indicted by Mueller: Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s longtime deputy, Rick Gates. Gates agreed to plead guilty to federal conspiracy and false-statement charges in February and began cooperating with investigators.

This person said Barrack was interviewed “months ago” and was asked a few questions about Gates’ work on Trump’s inaugural committee, which Barrack chaired, and but there were no questions about the money raised by that committee.

A second person with knowledge of the Barrack interview said the questioning was broader and did include financial matters about the campaign, the transition and Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

If the question is what Barrack’s interview means in the larger scheme, the fact of the interview itself is expected in part because of his proximity to candidate- and then President Trump, but also for his connection to convicted felon Rick Gates, which includes helping him gain access to the White House. And if the unsurprising news is not insignificant, we need only stick the proverbial pin and stay tuned.

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The Pruitt Watch (Peat Fire)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

While the idea of a rioting dumpster fire experienced brief vogue among media commentators trying to describe the Donald Trump presidency, the slowburning, filthy corruption of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to describe something akin to a peat fire. The lede from the New York Times:

Since moving to Washington, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has attracted the attention of federal investigators because of his unusual association with lobbyists, including his rental of a condominium last year owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business before the E.P.A.

As a state senator in Oklahoma 15 years ago, Mr. Pruitt went even further: He bought a home in the state capital with a registered lobbyist who was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules—changes that Mr. Pruitt championed in the legislature.

And as with the condominium rental in Washington, Mr. Pruitt never publicly disclosed his financial relationship with the lobbyist, who, like Mr. Pruitt, lived in the home when in Oklahoma City on business.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)But if for some reason the Pruitt Watch seems frustrating, or even verges toward incomprehensible, perhaps the striking report from The Atlantic suggests a flashpoint:

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it.:

In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.

“This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

To the other, an unnamed White House official claiming knowledge of the situation explained: “Absolutely nothing Scott Pruitt did would surprise me.” And, yes, that last might as well include, the prospect of the EPA Administrator simply persisting and enduring, though the article did not.

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The Pruitt Watch (#swamped)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Photo: Jason Andrew/Getty Images)

The list from Steve Benen might, ‘twixt now and Monday, have become obsolete; it’s hard to tell, some days.

1. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s controversial travel habits.

2. The House Oversight Committee is also exploring the EPA chief’s use of public funds for first-class travel.

3. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s behind-the-scenes talks with the National Mining Association.

4. Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on an around-the-clock security detail is the subject of three inspector general investigations.

5. The House Oversight Committee is also examining the EPA chief’s security expenditures.

6. The Government Accountability Office has already investigated Pruitt for exceeding federal spending limits when he bought a $43,000 phone booth for his office.

7. The White House Office of Management and Budget is also investigating the phone booth.

8. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s use of funds set aside for the Safe Drinking Water Act and diverting the money to give generous raises to two of his top aides.

9. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco late last year.

10. The Government Accountability Office is investigating Pruitt’s ouster of scientists from the EPA’s science advisory committee.

11. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether Pruitt broke lobbying laws with comments he made to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

12. The House Oversight Committee is investigating Pruitt’s living arrangement at a lobbyist’s condo.

13. And as noted above, the EPA’s inspector general is now also taking a closer look at Pruitt’s time at that condo.

Before the day was out, the msnbc blogger found himself adding to the list, sort of, noting a “controversy that should become the 14th” in a Reuters report describing a financial hardship waiver Pruitt’s EPA granted to an Oklahoma facility for a company owned by former Trump administration hand Carl Icahn:

The waiver enables Icahn’s CVR Energy Inc (CVI.N) to avoid tens of millions of dollars in costs related to the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The regulation is meant to cut air pollution, reduce petroleum imports and support corn farmers by requiring refiners to mix billions of gallons of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline and diesel each year.

And it does, you know, just keep going downhill.

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Congress, As Only Congress Can

#dysfunction | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A reflection of the U.S. Capitol, 17 February 2012. (Detail of photo by Kevin LaMarque/Reuters)

This is what it is—

At last count, one member has stepped down for health reasons (Mississippi’s Thad Cochran), one member resigned to seek a statewide office (California’s Xavier Becerra), four members gave up their seats to serve in the Trump administration (Georgia’s Tom Price, South Carolina’s Mick Mulvaney, Kansas’ Mike Pompeo, and Montana’s Ryan Zinke), five resigned under a cloud of scandal (Arizona’s Trent Franks, Michigan’s John Conyers, Pennsylvania’s Tim Murphy, Minnesota’s Al Franken, and Texas’ Blake Farenthold), and two stepped down because they didn’t feel like being in Congress anymore (Ohio’s Pat Tiberi and Utah’s Jason Chaffetz).

A recent FiveThirtyEight analysis noted, “If that feels like a lot, that’s because it is; it’s the most people who have resigned from Congress through this point in the session in at least 117 years.”

(Benen)

—but does not account for three U.S. Senators and thirty-three Members of Congress who are simply not running for any office, nor nineteen leaving their House seats in search of statewide office.

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The Pruitt Watch (#swampstyle)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The lede from Bloomberg ought to be enough—

President Donald Trump called his embattled environmental chief Monday to assure him his job is safe amid mounting scrutiny of Scott Pruitt’s travel, hiring practices and an unorthodox condo rental arrangement last year, according to two administration officials.

—to beg the question: So, the clock is ticking, then, right?

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The Latest Pickup: Joseph diGenova

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

US President Donald J. Trump after a group photo on the second day of the G7 Summit at the Hotel San Domenico in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, 27 May 2017. (Photo: Angelo Carconi/ANSA)

Steve Benen suggests—

Obviously, diGenova’s track record of pushing strange, right-wing conspiracy theories on television makes it difficult to take him seriously, but because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, the opposite is true in the White House: this president loves those who push strange, right-wing conspiracy theories on television. The same qualities that make Joseph diGenova appear foolish in the eyes of the American mainstream are the very qualities that make him appealing to Trump.

Attorney Joseph E. diGenova, ca. 2016 (Image: C-SPAN)—and that is all well and fine insofar as it goes. One need not protest, though, in order to recall general questions of White House morale and who might wish to work for the Trump administration, and from there specifically point out that eventually there will only be diverse manners of true believers left to answer the call. In this context, Joe diGenova might not be the best man for the job—

For those who support the president and want him to succeed, none of this is good news. Trump is facing a serious scandal of historic significance, which may very well bring his presidency to a premature end. He needs the best legal defense possible.

I’m not sure he’s getting it. Trump—who already had to replace the former head of his legal team, who seemed completely out of his depth—has assembled a group of attorneys who haven’t necessarily served him especially well, and he’s now adding a conspiracy theorist whom the president probably saw on Fox News, peddling a strange tale with no basis in fact.

—but could well be the last best attorney to take up President Trump’s defense.

____________________

Image notes: Top —President Donald Trump. (Photo: Angelo Carconi/ANSA)  Right — Attorney Joseph E. diGenova (Image: C-SPAN)

Benen, Steve. “Trump’s new defense attorney burdened by a controversial past”. msnbc. 19 March 2018.

Not Exactly Subtle

#PutiPoodle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

This is all ritual, right?

When asked—three times—at a White House press briefing about Russia’s link to the poisoning or any possible repercussions for the country from the U.S., Sanders carefully did not say “Russia”—or otherwise address who may have been responsible for the attack. She characterized it as an “indiscriminate” attack, although British authorities have concluded that Skripal was clearly targeted.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)“We’ve been monitoring the incident closely, take it very seriously,” Sanders said. “The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against U.K. citizens on U.K. soil is an outrage. The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible. We offer the fullest condemnation.”

“So you’re not saying that Russia was behind this?” a reporter asked.

“Right now, we are standing with our U.K. ally,” Sanders said again. “I think they’re still working through even some of the details of that.”

Pressed a third time, an annoyed Sanders answered, “Like I just said, we stand with our ally and we certainly fully support them and are ready if we can be of any assistance.”

(Papenfuss)

That is, just to be clear: We put up with the lying farce that is the Trump administration every day according to some pretense that we all recognize what is happening and it ought to be over, eventually, when Mueller and the American Way of Truth and Justice finally come through.

Right?

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